What Happens When Your HDL Is Below 40?

Your HDL cholesterol, which is short for high-density lipoprotein, is actually the good cholesterol you want in your body. HDL transports harmful low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, molecules to your liver where they are broken down. When your HDL drops too low, for example, under 40 milligrams per deciliter, your entire cardiovascular system suffers.

Poor Cholesterol Levels

Ideally, your high-density lipoprotein should be above 60 milligrams per deciliter, reports MayoClinic.com. The lower your HDL, odds are, the higher your LDL will be -- possibly greater than the recommended 100 to 129 milligrams per deciliter. Additionally, your total cholesterol, which should be less than 200 milligrams per deciliter, could also spike. These numbers surge since you don’t have enough high-density lipoprotein in your system.


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As low-density lipoprotein continues to increase in your blood, it starts building up inside your arteries and makes them hard and stiff. This condition, known as atherosclerosis, drastically narrows the pathway for blood. As a result, your heart has to pump harder just to move blood throughout your body, thereby weakening the heart muscle and increasing your risk of suffering from heart disease later on in life.

Blood Clots

When your arteries become stiffer and harder, blood cells can stack on top of one another and get stuck, leading to a blood clot. If left untreated, blood clots might cut off the supply of blood to part of your brain, leading to a stroke. Blood clots can also minimize or stop blood flow to your heart, leading to a heart attack.

Ways to Increase It

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Because HDL is vital for regulating your overall cholesterol levels and protecting your heart health, you’ll have to work and bring it up if it is below 40 milligrams per deciliter. Losing weight is your first key to success. For every 6 pounds you drop, you can boost your HDL by about one point, according to MayoClinic.com. As long as you’re generally healthy and your doctor gives you the go-ahead, start increasing your physical activity. Regular exercise not only gets your weight in check, it also ups your HDL by up to 5 percent in as little as two months. Eating more omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in place of saturated fats can also increase your high-density lipoprotein level. So, include avocados, coldwater fish, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils in your diet.